If kit cars are the canvas on which we sketch our automotive fantasies, then Don Fuselier and Ray Lombard might qualify as modern Rembrandts. Don, a construction worker in Orlando, Florida, is new to the custom-car business, even though his beautiful Super Stepside pickup looks like it has been created by someone with considerable experience.
Enter the trucks co-creator, Ray Lombard from South Africa, who builds oceangoing boats and also does prototype automotive work, such as the example you see here. The Stepside project began during a casual conversation when the two men were discussing how much they liked the lines of the four ChevyStepside trucks in their company. Don confided that he would love to build a kit that had the lines of an El Camino, but with a stepside bed. Since both men shared the belief that the end of a factory assembly line is the beginning point for better vehicles, it wasnt long before they began talking style. They agreed that a kit should be simple, engineered well enough so it could be installed by the average handyman and use an affordable donor car.
After some rough sketches, the pair went donor shopping. That is, they began driving around the neighborhood until they spotted a likely candidatea Chevy Caprice. After negotiating with the owner, they trailered their $200 treasure to a friends backyard and parked it under the proverbial shade tree. The two then approached the car with a disk grinder, a Sawzall, and Rays considerable imagination. After eliminating everything that got in the way of the proposed design, they found a platform for the new shape by adding a plywood subframe covered with foam. While Ray carved a front end into shape, Don used his carpentry skills to build a plywood box the size of the inner bed. Once they had the front and back sculpted to their liking, they fiberglassed the new form to create a plug from which molds would be made.
Once the molds were done, Ray left for other projects while Don continued, creating the first handlaid body. Although the original trial-and-error process took quite some time, the 18 months of relentless refinement paid off. The shape of the new shell was smooth and Don couldnt wait to see it in place. He found another donor car, this time using the Internet to purchase an 83 Caprice four-door for $1,700. Any full-size GM four-door car (Caprice, Bonneville, Olds 98) from the early 80s to 1990 will work. Its a good idea to locate one with a low-mileage motor and a good interior. Most will already have all the standard options such as a V-8, tilt, cruise, and air.
Construction of the first Super Stepside began by removing the Caprices front fenders, grille, bumpers, hood, and rear doors. The gas tank, the taillight assemblies, and the license-plate brackets were also removed and set aside for reinstallation later. The moment of truth began with the Sawzall, cutting the roof behind the front door pillars but leaving the front doors intact. (Because the doors and cab are intact, the car can still be licensed and insured as an original 83 Chevrolet.) After making a similar cut in the floor behind the front seats and removing the three body mounts on each side (save them for later), all the rear sheetmetal was removed. The rear chassis rails were trimmed by 6 inches and reinforced with welded metal cross braces for extra strength. New 1-inch angle irons support the gas tank in its new position, between the frame-rails. Up front, a few inches were trimmed off either side of the radiator mounting bar to allow the front clip to close. All the electrical connections to the headlights and taillights were saved to be reinstalled later.
Before the one-piece rear clip was installed, the original taillight housings were placed inside the rear, double wall of the bed, aligned with the oval taillight cutouts, and mounted in place. The clip was then aligned with the stub of the cars original roof where it was bonded to the sheetmetal with epoxy, and the seam was blended with fiberglass filler. The rear of the clip bolts to the chassis with the reinstalled body mounts and special brackets. Rocker panels were next, aligned with the front edge of the door and trimmed in the rear until they fit flush with the rear clip.
In order to mount the one-piece front clip, kit-supplied brackets were bolted to the original bumper brackets. They support the hinge thats built into the front clip. Twin Bear Claw latches on the upper cowl secure the tilt forward front end in the closed position and cables support it in the open position. The new clip conceals the wipers under its extended cowl.
All the original lighting equipment was reused. The headlights were rigidly mounted to the chassis and shine through openings cut into the clip. What resemble Corvette taillights are really the original Caprice taillights shining through Corvette-style cutouts in the rear clip. All the lights simply reconnect to the existing harness. Don relocated the battery to the rear of the chassis, underneath the diamond plate cover in the bed. A spare tire can also be stored under the second diamond-plate cover, and future plans call for a small, built-in storage box. Buyers have a choice of sidepipes or rear pipes. Don chose sidepipes on the prototype but plans to build the next car with a Corvette-style, quad-exhaust system exiting in the center of the rear pan. The gas-tank filler is located behind the hinged license plate, just as it was on the original car. A length of hose connects the stock filler to the relocated tank.
Since so much of the original car is left undisturbed, Don estimates a reasonably talented backyard builder can mount the one-piece rear clip, the tilt front end, and the two rocker panels on a previously prepared car in a long weekend. Once all the pieces are on the car, he says it takes about four days for a body shop to blend everything together, adjust all the cut lines, and block for primer. It took the upholstery shop three days to install the headliner, the carpet, and the door panels, close off the area behind the seats, and reupholster the burgundy-trimmed, gray bucket seats from a Pontiac Grand Prix. If you choose the donor car carefully, the interior can be left stock until the budget allows an upgrade. After the car was painted a Ford Taurus Burgundy by J. Barr Enterprises in Apopka, Florida, Don completed the job, adding stainless steel mesh behind the grille and side intakes.
This Super Stepside uses Pacer 8-inch-wide aluminum wheels with 60-Series tires up front and 10-inch-wide versions with 50-Series tires in the rear. Engine mods to the original 305 V-8 were limited to a set of Hooker competition headers that give the car a high-performance sound. The lighter weight of the kit makes the stock engine perform briskly.
The thing Don enjoys most about the finished truck is the fact that heads are always turning to catch a glimpse of his radical Super Stepside. People react with a mixture of delight and astonishment, with everyone from toddlers to senior citizens wanting to know what it is. Several have thought it was a Corvette pickup truck, and many times when he returns from a store, there is a crowd gathered around the truck with people waiting to find out the origin of the vehicle.
Don has contracted with a local boat-building firm to produce chopper gun bodies that will sell for $3,495. He has a wing scheduled for the near future along with a custom ground-effects kit. With the cost of a donor car and incidentals, Don estimates the builder can easily complete the truck for less than $15,000, which means you can ride in style without launching your credit-card debt into the 22nd century.